International

Pentagon chief seeks to defuse tensions with China

(Washington) Pentagon chief Mark Esper on Tuesday announced plans to visit China before the end of the year to establish military-to-military communication channels, hoping to defuse tensions with Beijing.

Sylvie LANTEAUME

France Media Agency

“Before the end of this year, I hope to visit China for the first time in my capacity as Minister of Defense to improve cooperation in areas where we have common interests and to establish necessary crisis communication systems, ”Esper told an online seminar organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

The date of this visit has not been determined but it is being discussed by the entourage of Mr. Esper and his Chinese counterpart, General Chang Wanquan, said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman. .

Mr. Esper pointed out that the United States “is not seeking conflict” with Beijing. Washington wants “positive and productive relations with China” and wishes “to open lines of communication and risk reduction,” he added.

But “China does not have the right to make international waters an exclusion zone for its own maritime empire,” he continued.

Mr. Esper was using a term used last week by Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo, when he announced that the United States now considers Beijing's land claims in the South China Sea “illegal.”

The United States has long rejected China's claims on almost all of the islets and reefs of the South China Sea against the riparian countries (Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei), but they were content until then to insist on the freedom of navigation.

By explicitly taking the side of the riparian states of China, the Secretary of State recalled a judgment of 2016 of the permanent court The Hague arbitration, according to which China has no legal basis to claim “historic rights” over this area.

“Risk of incident” 2020

Mr. Esper has listed a series of “bad behavior” in the South China Sea in recent months, accusing the Chinese military of sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat, “harassing” Malaysian oil exploration companies and escorting fishing boats Chinese in the exclusive economic zone of Indonesia.

“The Chinese Communist Party has been behaving like this for years. But today, his intentions are on display for all to see, “he added. “We hope the CCP will change, but we must prepare to the contrary.”

He warned that even if Beijing regularly protests against the “freedom of navigation” operations that the United States is carrying out in this maritime area crucial to world trade, Washington would continue to send aircraft carriers to the sea. Southern China.

“No one will stop us,” he assured.

Two American aircraft carriers, the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan, thus crossed paths at the beginning of July in the South China Sea.

The Pentagon spokesman stressed during a press briefing that military relations between the two countries were “extremely important to avoid misunderstandings in the future”.

“There is an international order based on the rule of law […] that has benefited China more than any other country in the world,” Hoffman added. “China and the Chinese would be better off sticking to this order than trying to replace it with new rules.”

Mr. Esper warned that the US Navy would also continue to navigate the Taiwan Strait, and that Washington would continue to sell weapons to what Beijing considers one of its provinces.

“We remain committed to peace and security in the region. We will honor our commitments to Taiwan, ”he said.

The island and the mainland have been governed separately since 54 but the communist regime claims its sovereignty over Taiwan, which it does not 'not rule out taking by force. For its part, the United States has recognized the Beijing government since 1979 but is required by law to assist in the defense of Taiwan.

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